The slate isn’t quite as loaded with obvious big games as it was last week, but I think we’ll learn a lot in Week 2.
No. 3 Heard County vs. No. 7 Fitzgerald
Is Heard County for real or is Fitzgerald back?
Of course, the answer could be “both.”
Led by 2,000-yard rusher Duranta Dunson, Heard County opens its 2014 season with its highest ranking since 1991. Dunson nearly set a state record the last time we saw him, rushing for 463 yards in a 61-57 loss to Jefferson in the second round of the playoffs. Braves coach Tim Barron wasn’t bashful about singing his praises this week.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever coached,” Barron said.
That’s quite a compliment considering Barron has had two four-star running back prospects (Dontavious Jackson and Carlos Brown) during his tenure with the Braves. And yet, Dunson is flying under the radar when it comes to recruiting. But that’s a topic for another blog.
More pressing is Saturday’s opponent (the game will be played 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Mercer).
Fitzgerald is coming off a 6-5-1 season, but that’s an outlier for the Purple Hurricanes. Prior to 2013, they had won at least 10 games for nine consecutive years. They haven’t missed the playoffs since 1999, and haven’t been eliminated before the second round since 2006.
If the Purple Hurricanes aren’t Class AA royalty, they’re not far off.
“This is a measuring-stick game for us,” Barron said. “To play somebody the caliber of Fitzgerald will tell us a lot.”
The Purple Hurricanes are coming off a 27-20 win over Worth County in which they fell behind early and suffered some turnovers, but otherwise outplayed the Rams. Quarterback Gerald Morgan led the team with 198 rushing yards as Fitzgerald outgained Worth, 413-238. Morgan, a converted safety, showed some physicality with the ball in his hands and was the focal point of Fitzgerald’s run-first offense.
--Keep an eye on: Heard County quarterback Emory Jones. The 14-year-old won’t be eased into varsity action. Barron said he’ll be the team’s starter and believes the athletic freshman has what it takes to be a “true, drop-back passer” in time.
No. 5 Washington-Wilkes at Lincoln County
How good is Washington-Wilkes?
This game should begin to provide an answer we may not fully grasp until the postseason.
The Tigers won 11 games last year and are loaded to repeat, if not improve on, that number this year. Including junior quarterback Deandre Harris and senior lineman Tremond Freeman, they return key talent at all levels of the offense and defense from a team than mostly breezed through the regular season last year. And with Jefferson now in Class AAA, no other team that remains in 8-AA has won a playoff game since 2006. But before the Tigers turn their attention to region play in October, they’ll face four nonregion tests, starting with the rival Red Devils.
Lincoln County has epitomized consistency in Class A. Under former coach Larry Campbell, they reached the playoffs every year since 1974. Last week, new coach Kevin Banks began his tenure with a 49-8 win over McCormick (S.C.).
--Keep an eye on: Momentum. Stat/data enthusiasts may tell you it’s not a real thing, but if you’ve seen enough rivalry games of this magnitude, you’ve probably seen a few of them swing 180 degrees on one play.
North Oconee at No. 1 Greater Atlanta Christian
Can GAC avoid a letdown?
A week after a thrilling win over No. 4 Benedictine, the top-ranked Spartans will take on the Titans and Kawon Bryant, one of the state’s top running backs. GAC has the talent to win, but when a team can lean on a back as productive as Bryant (2,500 yards, 41 TDs last year) it’s always dangerous.
Of course, GAC has it’s own dangerous weapons. After last week’s performance, a better question for this game might be, “can anybody cover Darius Slayton?”
No. 2 Lovett at Westminster
How tough will it be to score on Lovett this year?
In a 38-3 win over Pace Academy in their opener, the defending state champion Lions picked up where they left off last year, turning in a dominant defensive performance. The defense that held 11 teams to two touchdowns or fewer last season racked up nine sacks (nine!), led by Ian Herbert’s 3.5.
It’ll be the season opener for Westminster, Lovett’s former 6-AA rival now in Class AAA. The Wildcats lead the all-time series 16-10, but Lovett has won the last two, including a 20-0 shutout last season.
West Laurens at No. 6 Vidalia
Is Vidalia a state contender?
Beating West Laurens, a team that went 3-7 last year, wouldn’t necessarily answer that question in the affirmative, but it’d be a step in the right direction for the Indians.
They blew out Swainsboro last week, and the Class AAAA Raiders might be the toughest team they face before meeting Benedictine in a 2-AA showdown on Oct. 17. West Laurens is coming off a 42-35 win over Thomasville; it was the most points scored by a Raiders team since early in the 2012 season.